Memorial altar for community ritual of remembrance; Family cares for their own.
From Home to Funeral Home
During the Civil War, we slowly began to hand over the care of our beloved dead to “professionals.” No longer were the people of the family, the spiritual community or loved ones gently caring for the body, washing, dressing, anointing it while celebrating memories of a life and sharing good-byes and blessings. Through tears, laughter and the action of loving care, family and neighbors worked together to care for their dead. Traditions like wakes or being laid out in the parlor moved from the family home to the funeral home. Death, like birth and the elderly, was out of sight and out of mind.
Lisa Carlson’s book Caring for the Dead – Your Final Act of Love is another must-read. The first half of the book contains hands-on information and the second half is a state by state listing of laws and regulations on caring for our dead. Laws are listed by code. Several laws have changed or been amended since this book was published. These updates are available for download here. I suggest you keep a copy of these changes inside the book. If your state has changes, note them directly on that page in the book so they do not go overlooked.
There’s No Place Like Home
Providing sacred space and comfort for a dying person so they can be with their loved ones is very sacred. A home funeral is a funeral held in a private home or any place of choice instead of a funeral facility or church. The deceased remains in the love and comfort of their home typically for two to five days. Family members can bathe, dress, anoint or drape the body, or can ask for the guidance and support of a death midwife or home funeral guide. Rather than embalming, dry ice is used to help the body remain in a natural state while loved ones care for it and say their good-byes.
Jerrigrace Lyons, a rebirther of the modern Death Midwife movement and one of my teachers, shares: “We care for our loved ones when they are living; there is no reason why we should not care for them when they are dead.” Final disposition of the body can be with direct cremation or burial, including green burial and graveside services. In her book Midwifing Death, author Leslene della-Madre shares this insight: “Creating sacred space is a cross-cultural spiritual practice. Placing a shared intention in the space creates openness and allows for pristine awareness or presence to emerge. Conversations happen, old hurts fade, people come together and witness the spiral of life and the ever turning wheel as we see death awaits us all. We all deserve for it to be sacred and beautiful.”
It’s Really Nothing New . . .
A home funeral is a traditional funeral. The modern practices that we usually sign up to pay for in our greatest time of grief and shock are not traditional! As baby boomers continue to age, we recognize that we have aging parents, aging partners and a few gray hairs of our own. We also know that death can call at any time and is not reserved for the the terminally ill with fair warning.
Baby boomers tend to be educated consumers and want to be able to determine what is a good fit for their budget as well as for the stewardship of the earth. Embalming is not mandatory after death under the majority of circumstances, although many consumers are lead to believe that it is. The average basic funeral today ranges from $6,000 to $10,000! Home funerals have substantially reduced expenses, which removes an additional layer of stress from the family.
We must educate ourselves on the truth about the laws regarding death in our own states. The rebirth of the home funeral movement is providing families with a slowed down, carefully planned for, hands-on experience. Family members can decorate a cardboard cremation casket or build a simple wood coffin. Some choose to transport the body themselves and even observe cremation or participate in the digging of the grave and returning the soil to the grave. These are age-old traditions. People are beginning to remember that they offer healing, peace and comfort at a time of loss.